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11 Best States to Visit in the USA

11 Best States to Visit in the USA

Deciding on the best places to visit in the USA is no easy task, but as serious journalists, we’re up to it! We’re asking the hard questions here, and refuse to shy away from controversy, so we say to the 39 states that didn’t cut; sorry, not sorry – these are the best states to visit in the USA.

Okay, so words like “best” can be a bit subjective, so we’ll try to keep our opinions in check. After all, the United States comprises a vast collection of cultures, boasting everything from major metropolitan cities to mountain ranges and desserts packed with unspeakable natural beauty.

While curating our list, we attempted to take a myriad of factors into account. From great food and sports to history and natural landscapes, these states are where you’ll find the cream of the crop.

Whether you’re an international traveler or a U.S. citizen searching for the best states to visit, join us as we set off on a virtual cross-country road trip across the best states to visit in the USA. From the East Coast to the West, we’ll point you toward the best national parks, theme parks, and beyond.

TL;DR: Best States to Visit in the USA

State Nickname
New York “The Empire State”: Legend has it the nickname stems from a letter written by George Washington, in which he referred to New York as the “seat of the Empire.”
Rhode Island “The Ocean State”: Rhode Island’s nickname stems from its history as a major New England shipping hub.
Illinois “The Prairie State”: While Illinois is known for large cities like Chicago, back in the day, about 60% of the state was covered in tallgrass prairies.
Florida “The Sunshine State”: Due to its positioning near the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, Florida has a tropical climate that offers plenty of sunshine all year round.
Louisiana “The Pelican State” or “The Bayou State”: While the official nickname is “The Pelican State” after its state bird, Louisiana is more commonly referred to as the “The Bayou State” due to its abundance of swampy marshland.
Texas “The Lone Star State”: Texas’ nickname stems from its single-starred flag, which was adopted after it gained independence from Mexico in 1836.
Wyoming “The Equality State”: Wyoming earned its nickname by being the first state in the USA to give women the right to vote.
Utah “The Beehive State”: Utah emphasizes that each citizen is an important part of the community at large, much like each bee contributes to a hive.
Arizona “The Grand Canyon State”: I mean, who wouldn’t nickname their state after its star attraction?
California “The Golden State”: First used in the mid-1800s, the nickname refers to the many opportunities California has to offer, including the massive gold rush it was rocking at the time.
Alaska “The Last Frontier”: Though the largest state in the USA, Alaska is also the least densely populated and still features plenty of gorgeous, unspoiled wilderness.

The Best Places to Visit in Each State

We get it – choosing the best of the best places to visit depends on the type of experience you’re after. That’s why we’ll start from the East Coast and work across the country, highlighting what each state has to offer.

1. New York

Street View of Times Square in New York City
Luciano Mortula-LGM / Adobe Stock

New York State is best known as the home of New York City (As Sterling Archer says, “You can just say New York”), the most populous city in the entire country. Home to 8.8 million people, NYC is a destination that every traveler should experience at least once.

Make sure you take the time to explore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the first sites that greeted more than 12 million immigrants. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park, take in the incredible view from the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt observation deck, or enjoy an exclusive private tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

If you are pressed for time, consider this guided walking tour that packs all the best NYC attractions into a single day. Interested in something a bit more unique?

Try exploring the catacombs of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral by candlelight or checking out some of NYC’s most historic bars on a prohibition walking tour. While there’s no bad time to visit NYC, Christmas time can be particularly magical due to the city’s many unique holiday traditions.

If it’s your first time in New York City, it’s hard to go wrong with a hotel in Manhattan. Check out options like the famous Hotel Chelsea near the Flatiron Building or the familiar Hard Rock Hotel near Times Square.

Cruise ship near big Horseshoe fall, Niagara falls
lastdjedai / Shutterstock

One of the other perks of visiting NYC is that it’s possible to work in shorter side trips to upstate New York to explore sites like Niagra Falls, just over six hours away. Bring your passport if you want to see the falls… as much as we hate to admit it, the Canadian side is cooler.

Want to stay in the USA? Spend a day exploring the nation’s capital with a day trip to Washington DC, where you can see the White House in person or visit the Smithsonian museums. Washington, DC, is just four hours from NYC by car or high-speed Acela train.

See Related: Where to Stay Outside of New York City

2. Rhode Island

Newport Lighthouse
Marianne Campolongo / Adobe Stock

While it may be the smallest U.S. state in terms of land mass, Rhode Island has plenty to offer in the way of tranquil New England shores. History buffs will find plenty to love in Newport, including a collection of gorgeous Gilded Age mansions.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy an afternoon of fun along the Colonial History Walking Tour, which includes free entrance to the Newport History Museum. Set out on a family-friendly cruise along Narragansett Bay or experience Newport Harbor and Jamestown with a sunset cocktail cruise.

Providence, the state capital of Rhode Island, is another great destination packed with unique things to do. Check out the best food the city has to offer on a Downcity tasting tour or learn about the city’s history on a guided waterway boat tour.

Fall Foliage in Providence, Rhode Island
nsiliya / Shutterstock

Want to see the spookier side of the city? Look no further than a Providence ghost tour or a haunted boat adventure. Depending on how long you plan to stay in New England, you might even consider hopping over the border into Massachusetts and taking a day trip to Boston to visit Fenway Park or the Boston Tea Party Museum. Or head down to Maine to indulge in lobster and visit the gorgeous Acadia National Park.

Unless you’re prepared for the cold of a New England winter, try to plan your trip during the peak season of May – October. Stay on the water when you book a room at Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina or check out the beautiful Shore House in Narragansett.

See Related: Best Beaches on the East Coast

3. Illinois

An aerial view of Navy Pier
f11photo / Shutterstock

Regarding the places to visit in the Midwest, the “Windy City” Chicago is undoubtedly at the top of the list. Known as the windy city, Chicago sprawls right along the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan in Northern Illinois.

The great thing about Chicago is that you’ll find plenty to do whether traveling with kids, as a couple, or with friends. Kids will go crazy for a visit to the Museum of Ice Cream, a trip to LEGOLAND, or an indoor simulated skydiving experience.

Travelers of all ages will find plenty of fun at Millennium Park, from gardens and ice skating to concerts and public art. Then there’s Navy Pier, an old naval base filled with carnival attractions. Culture vultures should consider a fascinating guided tour of the Art Institute of Chicago, which boasts one of the world’s most impressive collections of Impressionist art.

Statue In Front of Wrigley Field in Chicago
FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock

Find out why Chicago’s deep dish pizza is world-famous on a 3-hour tasting tour before checking out a Cub’s Game at Wrigley Field. No trip to Chicago is complete without delving into the city’s less-scrupulous history with a Gangsters and Ghosts Tour or a pub crawl of Chicago’s historic speakeasies.

Check out hotels like the W Chicago for great views of Lake Michigan, or stay in a historic French Beaux-Arts building at The Blackstone, Autograph Collection. June through September tends to be a great time to visit, as you should dodge the city’s blistering winters.

See Related: Things to Do in Illinois & Top Places to Visit

4. Florida

Walt Disney World, one of the best family vacation spots in the world
Shawn.ccf / Adobe Stock

From outdoor adventures to one of the world’s best theme parks, Florida has something for everyone. Regarding family fun, it’s hard to go wrong with a trip to Orlando.

While a bit pricey, it’s possible to design an entire vacation around the massive Walt Disney World alone. But rest assured, you won’t have to look far for plenty of other attractions to explore, from Sea World and Universal Studios to the Kennedy Space Center or an Everglades airboat tour.

Further down the coast, you’ll find Miami, home to the famous South Beach neighborhood, which boasts world-class restaurants, shops, and bars. But you might also consider purchasing a Go City All-Inclusive Pass, which will grant you access to over 25 Miami attractions – from family-friendly sites like Miami Seaquarium and Zoo Miami to cultural draws like the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

The Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys taken by drone.
Dustin / Adobe Stock

If you’re looking for more of an island experience, you won’t be disappointed with a trip to Key West, one of the most popular destinations in the Florida Keys. Set sail alongside playful dolphins for an eco-snorkeling cruise, set out on a sandbar excursion and kayak tour, or opt for an eco-adventure through the Key West mangroves.

Florida has great hotels for every type of traveler, from the Walt Disney World Dolphin in Orlando to adult-only options like the H20 Suites in Key West. Given that Florida enjoys warm weather year-round, you might consider visiting in the off seasons from January- to February or August to mid-November, when prices are much lower.

See Related: Key West Day Trip: The Florida Keys in a Day

5. Louisiana

Mardi Gras Costume
James Cage/ Flickr

The southern state of Louisiana has a magic all its own, and nowhere is it more evident than in New Orleans. Known for its incredible music, Cajun cuisine, and rich culture, New Orleans is a city with countless unique attractions.

Mardi Gras, usually in February or early March, can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience as long as you’re prepared for the crowds! Otherwise, you might consider visiting during the winter, when the city tends to be cool and much less crowded.

New Orleans might be one of the best cities in the U.S. for touring. You can learn about the history of the famous French Quarter with a guided tour of some of the Quarter’s hottest spots – or see it through a spookier lens on a Ghosts, Voodoo, and Vampires excursion. Head down to Bourbon Street for great drinks and music, or soak in jazz as you cruise the Mississippi River on an authentic steamboat.

Pubs and bars with neon lights in the French Quarter
f11photo / Shutterstock

Part of what makes New Orleans so fascinating is that you can tour an 1839 plantation, take a swamp boat ride, and learn the legend of a local werewolf all on the same tour. Seek out the best food the French Quarter has to offer or sign up for a cajun and creole cooking class to improve your culinary game.

Stay right in the heart of the action when you book a room at Four Points Sheraton French Quarter. Or enjoy the free bikes, fitness center, and on-site restaurant at Kimpton Hotel Fontenot.

See Related: A Local’s Guide to Mardi Gras in New Orleans

6. Texas

Building front of the Alamo in San Antonio Texas
The Alamo / Facebook

If you’re planning your first visit to Texas, it’s important to understand that the state is big! As the second-largest state in the U.S., the “Lone Star State” is made of rolling hills, endless plains, and multiple cosmopolitan cities.

Houston, the state’s largest city, has a great collection of 19 museums offering something for the entire family. Be sure you also plan for a trip to Space Center Houston, an incredible learning center you can visit where you’ll find over 400 space-themed exhibits and artifacts.

Football fans may prefer to head to Dallas for a VIP Guided Cowboys Stadium Tour, complete with stops by other top attractions like the JFK Memorial and Dallas Arts District. The state capital of Austin is yet another great choice, particularly if you love live music and great restaurants.

But for history buffs, San Antonio tops the list of Texas’s best places to visit. Set out on an epic San Antonio site-seeing tour, where you’ll take in over 70 different popular and historical sites, from the enormous Alamodome stadium to El Mercado, the oldest Mexican market in the U.S., and of course, the Alamo proper, one of the most sacred landmarks in U.S. history.

San Antonio Riverwalk in Texas during the holiday
Roger Gray / Adobe Stock

Take a cruise along the San Antonio River Walk, one of Texas’s best tourist attractions. From outdoor markets and amazing restaurants to parades and festivals, the River Walk offers fun for kids and adults alike.

Check out hotels like the Mokara Hotel & Spa right along the San Antonio River Walk, or opt for a unique property like The Driskill in Austin. If you want to avoid Texas’ legendary heat, plan a visit in the spring or fall when the weather is at its nicest.

See Related: Things to Do in Austin, Texas

7. Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park Scenery
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Wyoming is one of the best states to visit for nature lovers, which certainly won’t disappoint! In the Western mountain region, Wyoming is the perfect destination for exploring gorgeous hiking trails, mountain biking, and camping out with the whole family.

Set out on an unforgettable day tour to Yellowstone National Park, where you’ll see sites like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Artist Point, and more. But don’t overlook Grand Teton National Park, one of the most stunning places in the Rocky Mountains.

Grand Teton comprises majestic mountains, forests, canyons, and rivers, which epitomizes the unspoiled American West at its finest. Embark on a 4-hour eco-safari to see bison, grizzly bears, pronghorn, bald eagles, and other wildlife in their natural habitats.

Dog sledding through Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Brent Reeves / Shutterstock

The Jackson Hole Valley is an excellent home base, with plenty of great tours and activities from the northwest Wyoming area. You’ll have no problem finding a white water rafting adventure, a guided horseback riding tour, or even a winter sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge.

If you plan to visit during the winter, you might consider staying at Elk Country Inn, which is close to popular ski areas. Otherwise, Cowboy Village Resort is a fun choice, especially for families.

See Related: Famous Landmarks in Wyoming to Visit

8. Utah

Downtown Salt Lake City from the Upper Avenues
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

With the Rocky Mountains in the north and the Colorado Plateau in the south, Utah may be one of the most underrated places to visit in the USA. While often overshadowed by flashier nearby attractions like Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon, Utah’s landscapes are truly unique.

You’ll find the state is actually home to some of the most gorgeous national parks in the entire United States. Plus, Utah has a huge skiing and snowboarding scene outside the capital, Salt Lake City.

In southwest Utah, you’ll find Zion National Park, which features majestic red cliffs and canyons, pristine forests, rivers, waterfalls, and a history dating back thousands of years. Set on a canyoneering adventure through popular spots like Stone Hallow and Zion Canyon, or take a UTV up to the famous Crimson Slot Canyon.

Whether you want to spend the day fly fishing, horseback riding, or camping with the family under the stars, Zion is a fantastic destination. More natural adventure awaits in eastern Utah at Arches National Park, home to over 2000 natural stone arches.

Arches National Park Scenery
James / Adobe Stock

Known as a “Red Rock Wonderland,” the park is located just outside the city of Moab, which makes for a great home base. Discover some of the park’s best hidden hiking trails on an offroad adventure or embark on a self-guided audio tour.

Just be aware that the park is so popular that the National Park Service is piloting a timed entry system from April to October. If you’re up for a ski trip, winter can also be a great time to visit Utah.

Want to go all out? Spend a full week exploring five of the most beautiful national parks in the Southwest on your own private tour. Camp out without sacrificing the latest amenities Zion Glamping Adventures, or indulge in the ultimate splurge when you rent out this 10-acre, five-bedroom estate surrounded by the beauty of Zion National Park.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Utah & Things To Do

9. Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock

Arizona‘s perfect blend of major cities and natural attractions makes the Southwest state one of the best places to visit in the USA. Grand Canyon National Park, which attracts visitors from all over the world, is among Arizona’s most famous draws.

Because the Grand Canyon is on top of nearly everyone’s “must-see” list, it’s possible to find day trips from a variety of cities. Set out on a custom day trip from Phoenix, enjoy a sunset Grand Canyon tour from Sedona, or hop aboard a bus tour from Las Vegas for a day trip.

For even more natural beauty, consider setting out on a tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon with a local Navajo guide or taking a saltwater rafting trip from Scottsdale. Or enjoy a hot air balloon ride in Phoenix after taking the kids for an outing at the Phoenix Zoo.

Sedona Scenery
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Whether you want to kayak through the Emerald Cave or take a wine-tasting tour of Sedona’s best vineyards, Arizona has something for everyone. Regarding lodging, Phoenix has a great selection of reasonably-priced luxury resorts like the Arizona Biltmore and Arizona Grand Resort. I’d also highly recommend Sedona for its plethora of resorts and hotels.

While Arizona is beautiful year-round, it can get incredibly hot during the summer and surprisingly cold in the winter, particularly in the mountain regions. Spring and fall tend to be great times to visit if you want to avoid either extreme.

See Related: Places to Visit in Arizona

10. California

Griffith Park Scenery
chones / Adobe Stock

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more versatile state to visit in the USA than California. Located along the Pacific West Coast, California has everything from Yosemite National Park and Death Valley to Hollywood movie studios of Los Angeles and the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco.

The weather in California is as diverse as its landscape, making it a great destination all year round. San Diego has plenty of incredible family attractions, including the 4,500+ rare and endangered animals at the San Diego Zoo, the awesome USS Midway Museum ship, and the SeaWorld Marine Park.

Southern California is also home to Los Angeles, where you can tour working movie lots at Warner Brothers Studios or Universal Studios Hollywood. Or choose from over 40 different Los Angeles attractions such as Legoland, Aquarium of the Pacific, TCL Chinese Theater, and more with an all-inclusive Go City LA Pass.

Bixby Bridge and Pacific Coast Highway at sunset
Nick Fox / Adobe Stock

A scenic road trip along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway will take you up to San Francisco, where you’ll enjoy all the fun of a major city within driving distance of some of Northern California’s most amazing natural attractions. Take a romantic sunset catamaran cruise across the San Francisco Bay as you weave past Alcatraz Island, the city skyline, and beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Set out on a walking tour with a ride on the city’s famous cable cars, explore Pier 39, and check out one of the city’s best museums. Or spend a day exploring wine country and hiking through Giant Redwood forests.

Northern California has many great resorts, like the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. Depending on where you land in Southern California, it’s possible to find great hotels near top tourist attractions like Hilton – Universal City or Inn at the Park near the San Diego Zoo.

See Related: Things to Do in California & Places to Visit

11. Alaska

Denali National Park Scenery and Skyline
Uwe Bergwitz / Adobe Stock

Last but certainly not least, Alaska is the largest state in the USA. Known as America’s “last frontier,” Alaska boasts an incredible wilderness of rivers, lakes, glaciers, and mountains.

Explore some of the most beautiful Denali National Park hiking trails on a 5-hour group tour, sign-up, or family-friendly rafting trip. If you stay in Juneau, Be sure you also experience the wonder of a humpback whale-watching tour, complete with unforgettable views of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Snow town Anchorage, Alaska, the United States of America
TripWalkers / Shutterstock

If you’re looking for a little extra daylight, then head to a city like Anchorage between late March and mid-September, when the city boasts more hours of sunlight than anywhere else in the country. But if you’d rather see the Northern lights, your best bet is to plan your trip between August and April.

Check out Hotel Alyeska, which is located about 40 miles out of Anchorage, for a great mix of luxury and wilderness. Or enjoy your family cabin near Denali at McKinley Creekside Cabins.

See Related: How Much Does an Alaska Trip Cost? [Average Cost Per Day]

Tips for Planning the Perfect USA Vacation

If you plan to visit the USA for the first time, it’s important to understand that the country is massive and not the destination you should attempt to experience in a single trip. To give you an idea, a drive from an East Coast state like South Carolina to a West Coast state like California would take around 37 hours non-stop.

Find Flights on the Cheap

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With that in mind, it’s best to stick to exploring a certain state or geographical region, depending on the length of your journey. If you decide to go all out and dare to check out both the South and West Coast in one epic trip, then it’s certainly worth looking into booking a flight.

Signing up for a site like Going.com will keep you abreast of any airline deals that pop up. Otherwise, look into booking sites like Kayak or Skyscanner, which can go a long way in helping you find the best deals on flights to specific destinations.

Rent Your Own Wheels

Manager filling car rental documents standing in the showroom with car
rh2010 / Adobe Stock

With the exception of cities like NYC and San Francisco, which offer excellent public transportation, you’ll more than likely want to rent your own car to explore most U.S. destinations. Even if you plan to visit large cities like Los Angeles, having your own car will save you hours over lengthy bus trips.

Expect the Unexpected! Get Insured

Travel Insurance
Lucian Milasan / Shutterstock

There’s nothing worse than having to cover the cost of a canceled flight or unexpected medical bill. That’s why it’s always a solid idea to look into travel insurance for unexpected expenses.

FAQs

How can I plan an affordable trip to the U.S.?

The price of international airfare is no joke, so it’s worth signing up for a travel alert club like Going.com (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). It can save you hundreds of dollars by sending alerts on cheap flights and mistake fares.

Which states offer the most unique cultural experiences?

For a deep dive into American culture, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Washington DC. New York City combines the best of a diverse range of cultures, while destinations like New Orleans have rich cultures. It’s also incredibly rewarding to explore America’s Native history and culture.

Which states are best for families with kids?

The USA is pretty kid-friendly across the board! While states like Florida and California have the most theme parks, you’ll find family-friendly activities in almost any state you visit.

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